Then the shots stopped going in and Texas started giving up drives to the basket and open looks from 3-point range. That perfect start to the Big 12 season suddenly looked very, very fragile.
Then J’Covan Brown, who provided the big spark in a big win over No. 2 Kansas, nailed two 3-pointers about 90 seconds apart and the Longhorns pulled away for a 76-60 victory Saturday night.
“That’s pretty much been his role throughout the year,” said Texas senior forward Gary Johnson, who had 16 points. “That’s what we need him for, a spark off the bench. Especially in games like this.”
Jordan Hamilton had 16 points and nine rebounds for the Longhorns (20-3, 8-0), who are off to their best start in the Big 12.
John Roberson scored 16 points for Texas Tech (11-13, 3-6), which whittled a 21-point Texas lead down to six midway through the second half.
“We were just down too many,” Texas Tech coach Pat Knight said. “You make a run on them, but eventually you run out of gas.”
Everything pointed to another rout when the Longhorns shot a blistering 57 percent in the first half, picking and choosing open shots all over the court. Hamilton was 4 of 6 from long range in the half and Tristan Thompson made all four of his shots.
Cory Joseph set an early tone with a steal and dunk symbolic of the kind of fast and physical play the Longhorns have used to tear through the first half of the Big 12 season.
Joseph poked the ball away from Texas Tech’s Mike Singletary and both players sprinted toward the basket. Joseph went up, drew a foul and still finished the dunk while Singletary fell on his backside. The three-point play made it 20-8 and came early in a 17-5 Texas run as the Longhorns built the lead as high as 21 in the first half.
“When you’re making shots, it’s always really pretty. But even when we were out there with the lead, (Texas Tech) battled,” Texas coach Rick Barnes said.
The Red Raiders steadily chipped away. Texas had held its first seven Big 12 opponents to 19 percent shooting on 3-pointers, but Roberson made three in the half to get Texas Tech within 16. Jay Crockett’s twisting layup capped a 7-0 run to start the second while the Longhorns missed their first six shots.
“I told them (at halftime) this was a different team than we played in Lubbock,” Barnes said. “We missed some shots and we let down mentally.”
The Texas offense that was so smooth in the first half was misfiring from everywhere. Thompson missed three in a row, Johnson’s dependable mid-range jumper started rattling around the rim and Texas Tech trimmed the lead to 53-47 on David Tairu’s three-point play with 11:20 left.
Brown bailed out Texas before the Red Raiders could get any closer.
Quiet until then, Brown made his two big shots and Johnson made a baseline jumper that put the Longhorns up by 14 and back in control.
The cushion was critical for Texas. The Longhorns struggled to string together consecutive baskets but managed to hold onto the double-digit lead and grind the game away.
“The more you play this game, you start to understand this is a game of runs,” Brown said. “Tech made a good run, coach called a timeout to get us settled down and we came out and responded real good.”
Brown made another heady play when the ball was knocked from his hands, but he still managed to tip it to Hamilton before Matt Hill finished the play with a layup to put Texas up 67-52.
Texas has won all of its Big 12 games by double digits and didn’t expect to have to fight so hard for this one.
“I think it was good for us tonight,” Johnson said. “We matured through it and we came out with a win.”